FDD Opens Iran Confab; Dinner at Oren’s? (Nope! UPDATED)

(UPDATED: Below I guessed that the FDD fundraiser at the residence of an unnamed ambassador to the U.S. would be at Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s house. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Turns out it was a Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani’s house. That wasn’t the end of the story, however. FDD didn’t notify the embassy either that the event was a fundraiser nor that it was connected to a conference on Iran. Read the whole story here at Foreign Policy‘s Middle East Channel, and I’ll have an excerpt up later. -Ali)

Because I got hung up in New York Wednesday morning, I hit rush hour traffic on the Beltway coming into DC, and arrived late for the opening session of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies‘s Washington Forum on “Countering the Iranian Threat.”

Nothing out of the ordinary during last night’s cocktail outing at the Ritz-Carlton, where in an adjacent conference area, two Barhraini gentlemen stood in white robes and head-dresses greeting people for an event sponsored by that government. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) event is your run-of-the-mill blue chip neoconservative conference at the high-endest of high-end Washington hotels.

As I looked closely at the final schedule, I was rather struck by the speakers’ list.

The New York Times‘s David Sanger — who just co-wrote a controversial story about Iran — will moderate a panel. Jeffry Goldberg, another mainstream journalist and no stranger to controversial stories on Iran, will be on a panel with perhaps the most strident advocate of immediate attacks on Iran, Reuel Marc Gerecht.

From officialdom, U.S. WMD czar and the former vice president of United Against a Nuclear Iran, Gary Samore, will address the crowd on Friday morning.

Naturally, the right wing of the foreign policy establishment is represented as well. Iran Policy Committee head Raymond Tanter, a tireless advocate of the Mojehedeen-e Khalq (MEK), was at the cocktail. And the Hudson Institute‘s I. Lewis Scooter Libby — formerly then-Vice President Dick Cheney‘s chief of staff who was convicted  of lying to investigators in the PlameGate scandal — was in attendance for Thursday morning’s panels, as was Patrick Clawson of the AIPAC-formed Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Of course there is the FDD roster itself: Gerecht (who was seen chatting in the lobby on Thursday morning with neoconservative Washington Times journalist Eli Lake), Cliff May, Michael Ledeen, and all the others.

But what really piqued my interest was an FDD fundraiser scheduled for Thursday night at the home of an unnamed ambassador to the United States.

Here’s what the schedule has to say:

7:00 pm 
Dinner at the residence of one
of Washington’s noteworthy Ambassadors
(Closed to Media)
(Minimum $5,000 gift required. Contribute here, or for more information on becoming a donor, please contact XXXXXXX)

FDD’s communications director, Judy Mayka, told me on Wednesday night that just which ambassador is hosting the $5,000 a plate fund-raiser is such a closely guarded secret that even she didn’t know. I’ll update as I find out more.

However, Thursday morning’s session featured Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who made the case for more robust U.S. assistance to Israel on missile defense. He received spontaneous mid-presentation applause — a rarity at these Washington panels.

Given the focus on Israel for FDD and many of its scholars — and the neoconservative movement from which they emerge — it’s not a stretch to put the early odds that Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren will play host to tonight’s big money FDD donors.

Otherwise, what I caught of the opening panel was rather unremarkable. Former Regean administration national security advisor Bud McFarlane spoke about impending threats and FDD’s unique ability to confront them:

We’re going, in the next two years, to face a threat from Iran, North Korea… We’re probably going to face a disruption of the oil supply…

Nobody else in Washington has the reach and the depth and the solutions that will get us out of this.

Mark Dubowitz, FDD’s executive director, ran down the group’s roster and sang their praises. He joked, as anti-anti-Semitism activist Irwin Cotler did on Thursday morning, about being a Canadian. Threats against Iran were not totally absent, but Dubowitz delivered them with a metaphor:

There’s no silver bullet for solving this problem, but there might be silver shrapnel.

Knowing some of the views of FDD staff and experts, some of the panel titles read like rhetorical questions:

– Sanctions: What’s Next?
Is enforcement enough?

– Increasing Threats, Diminishing Options: Should the Military Option be Employed against Iran?
When does this become the only option?

Dubowitz confirmed the militarist bent of FDD when he closed out Wednesday night’s opening cocktail reception: “We’re not just a think tank. We like to think of ourselves as a ‘battle tank’.”

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Hey, love this on the spot journalism — Gharib in the lion’s den (or is the lion too noble a beast to be equated with these bomb-Iran types?). Anyway, very fun to read, and what’s the over-under on Oren hosting the dinner?

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